Behind every backpack decorated with a maple leaf, there’s a proud Canadian subtly making the point to the world around them: "I’m trustworthy and I’m from a free, clean, and conscious nation (and, just for the record, this accent isn’t American)."
There’s been a lot said about the strength of brand Canada and, from a cultural standpoint, the majority of Canadians are mighty proud to "Stand on guard for thee" and soak in the admiration and envy—the mere mention of our homeland can inspire in people around the world.
When it comes to entrepreneurs, however, it seems that there’s a slightly different story and fewer flags are being waved and proverbially sewn onto briefcases. Whether this reticence comes from a natural inclination towards politeness and modesty or from a notion that Canadians won’t be taken seriously as industry leaders on the global stage, it has the potential cause major damage to the growth of our startup industry.
BIG COUNTRY, SMALL TOWN
Despite being the second largest country in the world in terms of landmass, it can be hard to get over the sense that Canada is small. Having a neighbor with almost 10 times the population undoubtedly casts a shadow and, while admittedly startups vary in nature, many new Canadian enterprises appear predisposed to operate as small-time, sideline players with no forceful pursuit towards mass scaling or expansion into new markets and little focus on pushing press and marketing efforts towards an international audience.
All the most recognizable faces in the startup scene, whether they be the blue-eyed poster-boy billionaires or the square-jawed VCs, hail predominantly from the US. Startup activity in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley is, without question, fast and furious, and the pools of talent and resources are huge.
With that heady, intoxicating environment, also comes an inherent expectation of success and global appreciation. Even when that expectation is misplaced, it exists to push a startup to the point where it will succeed or fail on it’s own merit (or lack of) rather than on a lack of exposure and drive.
LOOK THE PART
When it comes to our nation’s startups, remembering the adage to "dress for the job you want, not the job you have," could go a long way. This has nothing to do with clothes and everything to do with entrepreneur mentality.
Startups hoping to be wined and dined by outside investment, need to act the part. That means putting in the time to develop, organize and present their businesses in a way that is attractive to outside investors. Historically this hasn’t been a strength of Canadian startups and the fragility of investment communities around the country reflect that. While there is Canadian venture capital, it pales in comparison next to the depth of VC funds in the United States and there’s no reason those funds won’t travel.
Dressing for success for Canadian startups means building a promotion strategy, attracting brand advocates, seeking international press and building out your own network of potential investors.
There has been a string of Canadian success stories in the last year and each one of these has bolstered the standing of Canada in the eyes of global investors. Canadian entrepreneurs who are making their names on the international stage, are providing a blueprint for new talent starting out and looking to make their mark.
These homegrown mentors are also becoming increasingly vocal about the need for Canadian entrepreneurs to broaden their expectations of success and show that, not only can we compete when it comes to innovation, but also when it comes to ambition.